I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference. -- Robert Frost
This week's parsha opens up with a curious anecdote. When Pharoah sent away the nation, G-d did not guide them through the close route (to the Land of Israel) through the road of the Philistines. Instead, G-d led the Jews through the wilderness route. To explain this choice, the Torah tells us that crossing the Philistine land would inevitably involve battle. The people, lacking fortitude after their long enslavement, would inevitably turn tail and flee back to Egypt.
However, this simple explanation is puzzling. Were not the Israelites pursued by the Egyptian army to the sea bank? Was the wilderness route a successful way to avoid battle? As such, our many sages explain that the route selection was not about preventing the war with the Philistines and Canaanites, as the simple reading suggests, but rather that Jews should avoid battle too soon. The Jews would need to go through an extended process of growth and development to be able to attempt the conquest of the land. Otherwise, they would not be ready and would fail.
Ultimately, the growth journey for the children of Israel lasted forty years. The wanderings started with an indirect route and continued through four decades of meanderings. However, it was worthwhile. Even though the journey could have been easier or shorter, it would have spurred less development, confidence, belief, and trust in G-d. Had it been more accessible, the trip would not have achieved its goal.
We often hear that we should endeavour to take the easiest possible route, leading to success. The lesson of this week's parsha is that sometimes we should take the longer, more challenging course. We also learn that when we do so, we should take advantage of the growth opportunity it presents.